Sambisa forest as metaphor for corruption

If Nigerians and groups, including Catholic Bishops of Nigeria which recently warned that government’s “inability to prevent attacks and killing of innocent Nigerians by Boko Haram is fast breeding distrust and lack of confidence in the Buhari-led administration” are increasingly becoming apprehensive over renewed Boko Haram hostility and bestiality, it is not because Nigerians have suddenly forgotten the sacrifice of our soldiers whose heroic exploits led to the 2016 ‘technical defeat’ of an insurgency that had before then claimed lives of 50,000 and condemned two million Nigerians to IDP camps.

And in the unlikely event Nigerians far away from the centre of Boko Haram savagery forget, people of Borno State who daily carry the scars of its brutality will not for a long time.

As Governor Zulum admitted last week, “the people of the state still remember the days before Buhari’s emergence, when 20 out of the 27 local government areas were in the hands of Boko Haram while all the five routes into Borno State were largely inaccessible with exception of Maiduguri-Kano road”.

But it is of little relief to Nigerians, that almost four years after President Buhari led Nigerians to celebrate the liberation of Sambisa forest with fanfare, the spate of killings have continued, culminating in recent Auno town killings of about 30 travellers, stranded outside the Maiduguri military entrance city gate which military authorities claimed is usually locked at 5p.m.

Like his predecessor during the abduction of over 200 Chibok school girls by the insurgents during Jonathan period, Governor Zulum who revealed that “Auno town has been attacked for about six times since his inauguration on 29 May 2019”, believes the attack “was forewarned as a security report from DSS that Jakana can be attacked, was circulated” long before the attack with the military putting no measures in place to prevent it.

That the attack took place at a gate only eight kilometres to the University of Maiduguri, which the military authorities said needed to be closed at 5pm to enable them carry out counter-insurgency activities confirmed Nigerian’s worst fears: Maiduguri is under threat.

The military has not denied this looming threat. If anything, this was confirmed by the military authorities whose theatre commander, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi gave the impression the victims brought the tragedy upon themselves with his crooked syllogism that “the incident would not have happened if the travellers respected military directive, which bans plying of the road from Benishek, a local government headquarters to Maiduguri, after 5p.m”.

That Nigerians cannot move freely any time of the day within eight kilometres of Maiduguri with its heavy military presence questions government legitimacy.

If indeed there is any governance going on in the country, heads should have started rolling in a military formation that admitted abandoning over 200 vehicles and passengers who probably due to no fault of theirs, found themselves stranded at Maiduguri city gate at 5pm.

Of course that the legitimacy of President Buhari’s government is being hotly contested by Boko-Haram from the outskirts of Maiduguri to Sambisa forest was clear from the statement issued by the Air force Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola.

He admitted “the Air Task Force (ATF), Operation Lafiya Dole has neutralized some Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) and destroyed some of their facilities in air strikes conducted on 27 February 2020”, adding as if to confirm Boko Haram’s is firm control of “liberated’ Sambisa forest, that the “air strikes targeted at the “S” region in the heart of the Sambisa forest, destroyed the terrorists’ facilities including vehicles and motorcycles hidden under dense vegetation.”

Unfortunately the president’s confidants continue to give the impression that those who call for a change of strategy in our war against Boko Haram are the president’s political enemies.

Only last Sunday, even with reality striking us all on the face, Shehu Garba, the president’s spokesman was busy jarring our ears with same worn-out phrases about “the commitment of President Buhari’s administration to protect the lives of Nigerians”; “that the remnants of Boko Haram will ultimately be crushed”; that “this administration is ever determined to frustrate their goal to hold Nigeria to ransom’’ and “that terrorists are clearly on a back foot and their days are numbered’’.

I am not sure those who had faith in Buhari and voted for him in 2015 and 2019 have ever doubted his commitment to Nigeria.

Their anguish is over how he can free himself from hostage takers preventing him from listening to voices of other patriotic Nigerians. One of such voices is that of Governor Zulum who in spite of saying “We need prayers more than ever before, to handle our problem from different approaches”, and has gone ahead to engage 30 Makkah, Saudia Arabia based Nigerian prayer warriors also submitted that “we need to keep taking the war to enclaves of the insurgents in the fringes of the Lake Chad Basin, Sambisa Forest and some notable areas”.

There are so many questions begging for answers from President Buhari who until his last week’s belated order that security personnel sabotaging the closure of the borders be sacked, was not known for holding his political appointees and warring security men in charge of coercive power of state to account.

Where was General Tukur Yusuf Burutai, the Chief of Army Staff who President Buhari ordered to relocate to Borno State in 2015 when Sambisa forest whose liberation he supervised in 2016 was retaken by Boko Haram that today threatens Maiduguri?

His new passion along with his counterparts in the Air Force and Navy seem to be setting up universities, sometimes in their villages!

How did Boko Haram retake Sambisa forest which upon its liberation in 2016, the army declared it was turning to a training ground and in fact became the venue for its 2017 Annual Sports Competition?

Sambisa forest, according to a study titled “Once Upon a Game Reserve: Sambisa and the Tragedy of a Forested Landscape,” by Azeez Olaniyan of University of Ado Ekiti was gazzeted, as game reserve by British colonial administration in 1958.

It is the duty of this government to identify and prosecute those behind the corruption that led to the decay and degeneration of a tourist attraction whose “lush greenery could rightfully be called a pearl in the semi-desert environment” into headquarters of Boko-Haram where abducted underage girls and married women are used as sex slaves and indoctrinated to become suicide bombers?

Another study by Professor Umar Maryah of University of Maiduguri, shows that the “Gwoza and the Fulani use part of the Sambisa forest which stretches across the northeast from Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi states along the Darazo corridor, Jigawa and right up to some parts of Kano State in the far north as a grazing forest”.

How come no one in government saw through the forces of instability using cows as cover to inflict violence on Nigerians and who traded the N170b National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) introduced in June 2018, to encourage ranching which would have thrived more in Sambisa forest for Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) settlements for Fulani herdsmen with potential for conflict among federating states especially those of the middle Belt region of Benue, Plateau, Taraba and Kaduna states?

And finally it is also a challenge to President Buhari’s government of change to identify those driven by greed to wreck Sambisa forest game reserve after it was handed over to the federal government through the National Park.

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